For the first time in my life, I had a look at the inside of the Palace of Westminster. It was fascinating wandering around the debating chambers, halls and corridors of one of the oldest democracies in the world.
The tour started with the hall where many previous monarchs and prime ministers had lain in state, and where, in the past, the highest courts in the land convened, even to try a king. The hall was vast and airy, yet had a great sense of occassion about it.
We were then led to the House of Lords, where the monarch presides over her parliament, and where the lords and nobles discuss matters of state. The surroundings were opulent, with large areas layered in gold for the monarch, and the nobles and lords resided on red leather upholstered benches. We listened in as a lord debated legislation concerning compensation, although to be honest not many were present.
Next port of call was the House of Commons, where the elected representatives of the people debate and put bills forward. The decor was more puritanical, with simple functional carving and understated green leather clad benches. We entered as the opposition were arguing against government proposals for extending state education to very young children. It was notable that the opposition were fewer in number and consisted mostly of men, whilst the ruling party had more members seated, being made-up predominantly of women.
Our penultimate stop was the terrace, overlooking the Thames, the London Eye and the former GLC building. One can imagine it being a fairly pleasant place to unwind on a warm summer’s evening, although we didn’t stay there too long due to the biting wind of a bitter winter’s evening.
We finished in the chapel, a colourfully decorated sanctuary where members of parliament could go to get away from the hustle and bustle and pray in peace. Throughout the tour, the Christian heritage of the country could be seen in its parliament, even the daily order of events on the agenda for the House of Commons included an opening in prayer.
All in all, a good experience, where parliament seems a little closer and just a little bit less remote.